Mysore food firmly upholds India's reputation as a riotous, characterful place to eat, with flavours, stories and colours blending all the way from royal palaces to streets stalls. Here's our inside guide on what to eat in Mysore.
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How to Enjoy Mysore Food
If you're looking for the ultimate in Mysore food, the answer has to be the Mysore pak. Yes, it was invented here, so that's a big plus in the culture and tradition box, but more importantly: it tastes so good!
Beyond that, you'll find many traditional dishes to try but, as you'd expect, some have origins a little further afield. Food, like accents and languages, take on distinctive features while also blending and melding one into the other. And Indian food is no exception.
Where is Mysore?
Mysore lies around three hours southwest of tech city Bangalore in the state of Karnataka, southern India. It's popular for visitors because of the extraordinary Mysore Palace.
Anyway, away from the philosophy, what are the food specialties in Mysore? What food should you try? Are food tours worth it? What's a good restaurant to eat at and what about a food market?
Let's get going on all the rituals, folklore and flavour behind Mysore food.
Sweet Mysore Food to Try
Mysore Pak: Sweet Like Fudge
First, a warning. Trying Mysore Pak is like opening a trapdoor into a new world of taste. It's good but you'll never be able to go back. And nor will your waistline.
As befits a signature dish from a city with a great palace, mysore pak began life as the invention of a royal chef. Kakasura Madappa first blended together this mix of sugar, ghee, gram flour and cardamom in the palace during the reign of Krishna Raja Wadiyar IV.
Orginally called Mysore Paaka and served at the palace, today it's dropped its pretensions, goes by the name Pak and populates street food stalls and late night kiosks as well as the fanciest restaurants in town.
And I loved it. Sweet but not sickly with a texture ready to give a bite and oh, so moreish. If I could have brought some home, I would.
Mysore or Mysuru?
On 1st November 2014, the official name of Mysore became Mysuru, the word used in the Kannada language. To avoid any confusion, they are both obviously the same place but with the word Mysore still in such common use, it makes sense to use both.
Typically a dish reserved for weddings and other special occasions, if you're lucky, you can track down payasam for dessert at a restaurant. This rice pudding dish extends beyond Mysore across south India with its sweetness, cardamom spice and chopped nut texture.
Served for breakfast, rather than for dessert, kesari bath also shows up for religious events and special Sunday treats. Elsewhere in India, it goes by the name sooji halwa or sheera but on the Mysore food scene, it's a hearty kesari bath.
A mix of semolina, ghee, sugar and milk, with saffron for colour, it's often topped with cashews or pineapple on special occasions.
Where to Find These Mysore Foods
Once in the city itself, be sure to try out the following three ways to eat.
- Take a Mysore Food Tour - a walking tour with frequent stop offs at kiosks and street food stalls allows you to have a bite of many different things, with the story to match. I enjoyed this tour from local operator Gully Tours. Spend the first half walking around the historical sights of the city centre before delving into the local food scene.
- Devaraja Market - this largely covered market combines incense and flowers with local fruit and food products. Head to the kiosk on the left of the main entrance for the juiciest Mysore pak.
- Mysore Restaurants - Mysore is a main city, with hundreds of restaurants. For great food in a serene, colonial-era setting with twinkling lights and magnolias, head to the Tiger Trails Restaurant at the Royal Orchid Metropole and eat beneath the stars.
Inside tip: many Mysore hotels offer vast breakfast buffets, making it far easier to test different flavours without ending up hungry if it turns out they're not for you.
Savoury Mysore Food
Don't be fooled by the donut shape. Vada is a distinctly savoury Mysore food.
Made from black gram (lentil) flour, cumin, curry leaves and sometimes chilli and chopped onions before heading into the deep fryer, vada turn out surprisingly mild.
Spice them up with sambar (a spicy lentil soup) and chutney and mix and match with other Mysore street foods.
Bisibelabath - A Bit of a Mouthful
If the word bisibelabath seems to contain a disproportionate mount of syllables, check out the ingredient list: a traditional bisibelabath contains up to or even over thirty different items.
It's a rice based dish, possibly of royal origin from the Mysore Palace, that today forms a staple of the Mysore food scene.
Bisi bele bhath literally translates to hot lentil rice dish in Kannada and it's a comforting, hearty dish likely to leave you with a satisfied, if not smug, belly.
These steamed rice cakes offer sanctuary to the spice if you crave something calmer for your tastebuds. All soft and fluffy, they're like mini circular clouds, floating through the Mysore food scene with grace and ease. But that's not how they're designed to be eaten.
Idli typically come with the spiced lentil broth called sambar and a smorgasbord of chutneys. You'll find them at street food snacks and as a core part of breakfast, even when fine dining.
Every self-respecting food spot has a dumpling or fried ball to its name, and Bonda takes on the challenge in Karnataka. The Mysore version is typically aloo bonda, made from mashed potato, and traditionally served with piping hot tea. Coconut chutney and a small bowl of sambar complete the experience.
Perfect for breakfast or lunch.
Mysore Masala Dhosa
To my mind, the Mysore Malasa Dhosa (or dosa) combines all that is good in teh world. The dhosa, a thin, slightly crispy pancake made from rice and black lentils forms one component. The mustard and potato filling forms the other. And the crowning glory on the whole affair is the mix of sambar and chutneys served alongside. It's somehow like twelve meals in one, and yet it's fresh, filling but not too stody.
Dhosas are a staple food in southern India so what makes the Mysore Masala Dhosa different? It's one of those bites where everyone has their own take on the recipe, but there are some articles of faith. Dhosa elsewhere run thin and crispy, whereas the Mysore dhosa is crispy, with red-rust marks on the inside and spongy and softer on the inside. Mysoreans (Mysoorinavaru) also spread some red chilli and garlic chutney on the inside before adding the potato filling.
Have one for me, will you?
Kori Gassi - Mangalore Chicken Curry
Mangalore, officially Mangaluru, lives on the coast as the official port city of the state of Karnataka. Yet it's not seafood but chicken that makes up the heart of this coconut and chilli dish and it's now a popular part of any Mysore food guide.
Turmeric, chilli, coriander, cumin, garlic, lime and fenugreek join the ghee and coconut oil to produce a sauce that goes oh so well with either rice or neer dhosa (a kind of rice flour crepe.)
Often eaten as a cold, breakfast dish, Shavige Bath mixes rice vermicelli noodles with vegetables and nuts. Of course, like most Mysore food, the list doesn't end there, with mustard seeds and turmeric joining the party.
Try with a coconut chutney for a surprisingly light start to the day.
You'll find poori (or puri) across India, but the Karnataka take on things is the Poori Saagu. This puffy circles match those around your eyes first thing in the morning , but eat them with a small bowl of vegetable curry to bring them - and perhaps you - to life.
Served in paper cones on the side of the street, Mysore churumuri tastes surprisingly fresh and zingy. At its core is puffed rice with various spice, but the addition of chopped onion, coriander, carrots and cucumber transform it from a rather dry snack into more of a popping taste explosion.
Like an omelette in that you throw in some vegetables and need to eat it on the spot, Uttapam is nothing like an omelette when it comes to other aspects. It's a rice pancake, rather than an egg one, and comes with a range of delicious chutneys to try.
Somewhat unfairly described as a "savoury porridge," khara bath has a bit more bite than the oaty porridge stodge. Made from semolina, roast vegetables and cashew, it's also called Upma or Uppittu and found across southern India.
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More on Food Around the World
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